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Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!


Entries in Junior Tennis (46)


Attention Parents: Practice Set Victories Are Meaningless

Parents deserve a ton of credit. A big round of applause for all the hours spent waiting in the parking lot during practice sessions, trucking kids to tournaments, keeping a positive smile after a rough loss, and footing the bills. Every child is lucky to have a parent who is willing to go the extra mile for them. Warren Buffet once said, "Being born in the United States and having two loving parents is like hitting the lottery. You are already winning in life and you should be grateful."

With all the hours spent toiling around the tennis scene, parents can't help getting caught up in the results. There is nothing more entertaining in life than seeing how you stack up to others. It is wired in our DNA to want to count the beans in the morning and see how we stack up with others relative to us. This is just human nature. We are no different from animals in the forest, all trying to jockey for position to be at the top of the food chain.

With the parents emotionally involved (how can they not be if they are spending all this time and money), the child eventually picks up on the cues that winning is the MOST important thing. A child can feel it everytime they get into the minivan and the first question is, "Well, how did it go?" Some parents try to be sneaky and ease their way into it, but in a roundabout way, they eventually squeeze out every groundstroke game or practice set score by the time the evening is over. How terrible!

For example, let's say Ben is a solid little player. He is improving and doing great, really enjoying the tennis. Despite losing to his good buddy Igor a couple times in a row in local tournaments, even getting cheated once, Ben is not too far off. Ben really feels like his time will come and eventually he will get him in a tournament. Since Ben and Igor live in the same city, Ben decides to give Igor a call to set up a practice match. What a great idea! The date is set and they agree to play next week.

Leading up to the match, Ben's Mom begins to say subtle things like "make sure you get enough sleep." "Drink plenty of water before you go to bed." "Remember, Igor doesn't really like his backhand." "Watch the lines." Before the match has started, Ben is starting to feel some pressure from Mom to win this silly practice match. Bless her heart, Mom is trying her best, but not understanding this is the worst thing she could do, promoting the culture that winning is the most important thing.

The match happens and Igor routintely drums Ben 6-3, 6-2. Ben really didn't play well, getting frustrated at himself everytime things got a little hairy. He mopes off the court and hops in the mini-van (his mother was peaking around a tree trying to watch without being seen). As usual, his mother wants to know the outcome of the practice match. Annoyed with his Mom and feeling the pressure, he says, "We split sets, but he won 6-4 in the third."

The perfect son who could do no wrong told a lie! It was a routine 6-3, 6-2 loss. Nowhere close to a split set decision as he relayed to his mother, how could this be?

Although horribly wrong, it is understandable why Ben suggested a 3 set loss.  He was feeling immense pressure from his Mom and wanted to save face.  By telling a somewhat decent scoreline, his mother would back off (maybe even be slightly happy because it was his best scoreline to date) and maybe even be in a great mood all night.  Kids are no dummies, they understand how a single practice set loss (imagine a tournament!) can affect the household and dinner conversation.  Last thing a child wants to deal with is a Mom talking about their practice matches.  Trust me!

Verbal and non-verbal cues can really affect a child negatively, so be careful. Winning is not the most important thing and if it is, you need to step away. The right course of action is to not ask at all because it really doesn't matter! Nobody cares! Nothing positive can come of it. The child will tell you if they want to. Good questions to ask are "did you have fun?"


Q&A: Stroking Felt With Tennis Legend Rosie Casals

For this week's Q&A session, we have the pleasure of speaking with Rosie Casals. Ms. Casals is a true legend of the game of tennis. During a career spanning over 2 decades, she has won more than 90 professional events and has been at the forefront of gender equality in sports. In this regard, she campaignedfor women's monetary prizes to be equal to men's and also for more media coverage for women's events. Despite a modest upbringing (or, perhaps, she might say, as a result thereof), Rosie Casals' achievements have been phenomenal: #5 in the world in singles; win-loss record of 595 - 325; singles semifinalist at the Australian Open (1967); 2x singles quarterfinalist at the French Open (1969, 1970), 4x singles Wimbledon semi-finalist (1967, 1969, 1970, 1972); 2x singles finalist at the US Open (1970, 1071). In doubles, Ms. Casals has won the ladies' Wimbledon title 5 times as well as the US Open title. At these events, she has also achieved success on the mixed doubles stage winning twice at Wimbledon and once at the US Open.  For her achievements, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996.For more of her achievements, please check out her profile

I first met Ms. Casals a few years ago when we started sharing coaching duties on behalf of one of the local juniors. In this time, I have come to believe that if we were to bottle Ms. Casals' intensity, passion for the game and understanding of the tactical and technical aspects, and then distribute such elixir to our top juniors, the United States would be dominating the top levels of the sport for years to come. I confess that I have never seen Ms. Casals play in her prime. However, reliable sources tell me that she moved like tiger who smelled blood on the ball. I do not doubt that for one second. In terms of tennis development, her knowledge and opinions confirmed something in my mind that I've sensed for quite some time: that if you want to be great at tennis, 99% is not good enough. It's not enough to do most of the things right; a player needs develop all parts of his/her game and concentrate to the very last shot. 
1. How old were you when you got started with tennis and how did you get involved with the sport?
I was 8 years old when I started at the public parks at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. My dad used to play recreationally and he got me started.

2. You played through a turbulent time in the history of tennis. Prize money was not as significant as it is today and even when it existed, there was a disparity between the men's purse and the women's purse. Despite these obstacles, your career spanned several decades. What drove you to keep going through these tough times and what advice would you have for young players who are starting out on the tour? 
I loved tennis. From the first moment I hit a tennis ball I fell in love with the game. In the beginning it wasn't about money it was about playing tennis and winning. Coming from the wrong side of the tracks and not having much money I happened to be better than the other girls who drove Cadillacs and ordered their lunch at the snack bar in the country clubs. It made me feel equal and probably a bit better than them. 
I've always been a fighter on and off the court. So I came at the right time in the mid 60s and 70s when there was so much going on and not going on for women.

3. It is said that American tennis is suffering because current juniors do not have the work ethic necessary to develop and succeed. They point to the Russians and Spaniards who spend lots of hours on court. On the other hand, Americans do work very hard in other professions (law, medicine, financial industry, etc.). Do you think that our loss of status in the tennis world is due to motivation, work ethic, lack of good coaching, or another reason altogether?
We have a lot of competition with the other sports like baseball, basketball and football. Other countries don't so they can concentrate better on one of the sports. Americans are spoiled at least many who play tennis at the academies. You need hungry kids and those kids come from broken homes and poor neighborhoods. I'm not so sure they're doing enough to attract these kinds of kids who want to have a chance to be good at something and get out of where they've come from. Most of our kids turn to basketball, football or baseball because of the money and more opportunities that are available for them to participate in. Tennis is still a very elite sport and small compared to other sports. Spain and Russia, countries like this have a lot of poverty but also have a lot of players that kids can look up to. The country is smaller so it's easier to do more with the population. I don't think the USTA is looking in the right places. To tell you the truth I don't think they really want a lot of Blacks and Hispanics playing the game of tennis. There are very few programs around that cater to the Hispanics. Look at the desert [Palm Springs - Indian Wells area]: I don't see anyone doing something to attract the Hispanic community. They're still playing soccer. 
Good coaching is also a problem. We've got one dimensional coaches. They need some of our generation of teaching and learning strategy. Kids have to learn how to think for themselves rather than depending on their coaches; they sometimes want it too easy.

4. The USTA earned $193Million in 2009. Breaking down the use of the revenue, the organization handed out $45M in grants to organizations (e.g. sectional USTAs); spent about $60million in salaries, wages and compensation; and used $1.8million in grants to individuals (presumably, junior and professional players). Granted that none of us work for the organization, do you see a problem with the USTA's use of funds? If so, assuming that we had the power to appoint you Queen of US Tennis and in charge of the USTA, how would you use the USTA's revenue to get the most US players (men and women) into the top 10 in the world?
I was really surprise to read this. I really think they are missing the boat. And as I said earlier: they need to hit the Hispanic community as I believe they will find the Pancho Gonzales and some winners wanting a chance to make some money and get out of their old neighborhood.

5. According to Patrick McEnroe, junior players are better served by aiming for college than the pros. We hear this on a day-in and day-out basis from local pros as well as parents. Positive aspects of college aside, do you find it problematic that we're pushing our players towards mediocrity and then expecting them to achieve success in the professional ranks? 
I don't know much about that aspect of the game. I never went to college and those that did ended up with a good education and getting the most of their tennis; Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Dennis Ralston, etc. I don't know that it's all that bad. Not everybody can make the Pros, so perhaps getting a scholarship at a Division I or II isn't all that bad if you make something of it.

6. What are your thoughts on Quickstart tennis? We do not have the statistical analysis to support the effectiveness of this program and yet the top USTA officers are gung-ho about it. Do you think that this is a noble experiment that's likely to have good results or are simply providing our players with another crutch to rely on? 
I think they're on a better track. I see the way the kids start with soccer and there's some similarity with the programs. You got to start them when they're young: 5 and up....for certain. I think they may have some good results with this program.

7. A number of former players and current coaches have suggested that, rather than re-drafting the rules of tennis for little kids, it may be more worthwhile to introduce young players to backboard training early in order to teach them the benefits of repetition and to emphasize the process of learning over results. As an example, Bjorn Borg spent hundreds of hours hitting against the backboard and sharpening his strokes and eyes which helped him become "a pretty steady player" (understatement). Do you think that we're missing this ingredient (backboard) in our early training and how else would you suggest that American players work on rediscovering the fundamentals (e.g. more clay courts; fewer tournaments; etc.)?
I don't doubt the backboard was a good friend to many of us and, yes, I think it should be incorporated into teaching. Kids should learn to hit on a backboard...do you remember Peaches Bartkowicz from Hamtramck, Michigan. She was No. 1 in the 9, 11, 13, 15 & 18...but I beat her because she was a backboard but wouldn't run....!!  Yes, we need clay courts and grass too! 
8. Americans seem to idolize talent. For example, John McEnroe was worshiped here while Ivan Lendl was either despised or ignored. In addition, we have "America's Got Talent" but not "America Works Hard". In terms of tennis development, what significance do you place on innate talent? Is talent important? Is it overrated? Is it irrelevant? 
Talent is important and it's what you do with the talent that counts. I don't think it's everything but it does help if you can put it to good use. You still have to have a good head because if you don't, talent is useless. It will probably make you a very showy player with some good shots and fun to watch but you may not be a winner. Americans love winners!!

9. Let's say that you have the ability to bring yourself - as a 14 year old girl - through time in the present day (in other words, 14 year old Rosie is brought into 2011). What advice would you give yourself in order to put yourself on the best path in order to succeed in the pros (3-4-5 years from now). Would you change your gamestyle? Strokes? Put more emphasis on certain types of fitness? Play more; play less? 
I would train properly and differently. Obviously now there's so much information on training and nutrition and everything having to do with the body. But still you've got to have it in more than one area. You have to be talented, good athlete and have a good head. Now the players are so much bigger and stronger and with the new equipment it enhances every aspect of their game. I would certainly always wish I was taller; my style of play didn't always suit my height. I was a server and vollier having been brought up on hardcourt in California and played lots of doubles. We were given the art of vollies.
Today, I would have a slightly different grip; no Continental more Eastern and I would still cut the angles and play the baseline and not 10 feet like these players do now. I would understand what happens at midcourt and what I was suppose to do with that ball; certainly not hit it and move back to start the rally again. I was always known for a good serve for my height and that I would definitely have as a weapon. I would need to be taller now. All I needed was 4-5 inches and I would have been awesome.
Having a serve and volley game makes you have to make great vollies as you are too vulnerable. It gave me a great overhead as I had to learn to move and fortunately I could and that too was one of my strong points. I had touch, I had style and I was a shot maker. I really do think that my height kept me from winning the Grand Slams in Singles....along with the Margaret Courts and Billie Jean Kings.

10. Since 1982, you have been involved with Sportswoman, Inc. (www.sportswomanevents.com) and have also donated a great deal of your time to helping out juniors. With respect to the latter, unlike many other former tennis legends, you are more hands-on. Do you think that the current up-and-coming juniors would be better served by having a direct line with people who have "been there, done that"? If so, why do you think that more former players are not getting involved directly or are not actively pursued by the USTA.
I love what I do. Having formed Sportswoman was a way to stay involved in the game and to have events with my contemporaries like Billie Jean, Chris, Martina, Virginia Wade and players of my era. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know some of todays' players or those just retiring as I have a fundraiser that I do up in the Bay Area called the Esurance Tennis Classic and we've invited, Hingis, Graf, Agassi, McEnroe, Austin and many other players of that generation. So it's a fun thing for me.  Yes, the USTA really should be looking our way to help educate the players of the future and today. I think I have a lot to offer and I think they would enjoy hearing from us. I don't know why the USTA does not call upon us other than the one in charge is Male and seems to deal with his co-horts male players and very little influence or women are involved in any position of power. Thanks Patrick.
Any other thoughts about tennis development? 
There's talent here in the desert; there are opportunities; lots of courts, good weather and kids. They need help, the pros need help with the kids. The USTA would be better served by this community if they would embrace those pros that work with kids and put them on the USTA payroll and program. With some small financial help the pros wouldn't object to sending their talent to Carson. But without help, who do they think they are that they can take over your player and give them the right things?! They certainly would receive more loyalty and cooperation from pros if the pros got some financial help for their kids.

Ms. Casals, we thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

In closing, we urge our readers to not only check out the events organized by Ms. Casals organization but to also lobby the USTA to get more people of her caliber involved with junior tennis development.  Ms. Casals' knowledge is indispensable and there is no substitute for her vision and experience. 

USTA's Focus on Player Development

"We want to help them with the resources.  USTA has given us in player development resources, and we want to use the resources that we have" - Patrick McEnroe, Sep. 6, 2010. 

As a follow up to this interview as well as its outlined roadmap, CAtennis.com thought it'd be wise to look at how the USTA is spending its available resources in order to "do what's best for the players". With a "we report, you decide" attitude, we looked at the USTA's latest publicly available tax records (tax year 2009) in order to determine how the USTA is utilizing the resources on player development. 

Here are some interesting nuggest of information (2009 figures):

Revenue: $193,278,828 (Part I; Line 12)

Expenses: $184,592,013 (Part I; Line 18)

Total Assets: $180,852,047 (Part I; Line 20)

Net Assets: $120,699,832 (Part I; Line 22)

Revenue Derived From Tournaments: $168,508,214 [query: is the USTA pushing for more junior tournaments - regional, sectional, national, local - because competition is good for players or because more tournament fees is better for the organization's bottom line?]

...breaking fown the expenses (Part IX)

Organizational Grants: $45,209,977

Individual Assistance: $1, 793, 770 

Officer/director compensation: $4,871,145 

Other salaries and wages: $32,796,359

Travel: $10,136, 808

"Other" (???): $10,504,496

... breaking down the Assets (Part IX):

Cash: $293,937

Savings: $32,051,051

Investments (public securities): $109,508,516

Land/buildings/equipment: $36,839,238  [i.e., vast majority of the USTA's assets is in fairly liquid form - easily convertible to cash or cash equivalents]

$1,120,340 of the total individual assistance expenses ($1,793,770) goes to player development grants (Schedule I, Part III). In other words, 00.5796% of the total revenues go to actual individual player development. On the other hand, Patrick McEnroe's total compensation was $1,106,853 (i.e., 00.5726% not counting items such as travel, lodging, etc. that may fall into the USTA's expenses - PART IX). 



Your thoughts? 



Choosing the "RIGHT" College for Tennis

At some point in a player's life a decision will have to be made as to whether the player will either (a) quit tennis and focus on more "serious" endeavors; (b) progress to the Pro tour; (c) seek to play tennis in college; or (d) enroll in college but play tennis on the side (e.g. as an intramural activity, for fun or in open/NTRP events). Assuming that the player (and his/her parents) has decided to play tennis in college, a number of factors have to be juggled and coordinated in order to come to a decision that is the most suitable for the particular individual. Under some conditions, some of these factors may be "weighted" differently for one player as opposed to another player. Some players are all about tennis; others are all about academics; for most, however, it's a mix. It all depends on family circumstances, the player's level, long-term goals, financial condition and personality. 

If facing the decision for evaluating the "best" school for you, here are some questions that you may want to consider:

1. Does the player REQUIRE a full/partial scholarship? For a lot of players, this is a "biggie." As previously mentioned, the number of scholarships - particularly for men - are limited. Therefore, if a player requires the financial assistance provided by a scholarship his/her choices will be limited by the institutions that have available funds for the particular graduating class. 

2. Does the player desire to pursue a professional tennis career after college? The fact is that athletics are given more emphasis at some universities as opposed to others. These schools may have the best facilities, the most knowledgeable coaches and athletic staff, the toughest schedules (ensuring high-level competition) and the greatest budget (ensuring that the players have the best equipment and travel experiences). This is NOT to say that the school programs are tailored to producing professional players. But, with better players on one's team, with superior coaching and schedules it's foreseeable that these players will be in a better position to progress onto the "tour" after playing at one of these "top" schools. 

A. If playing pro is a long-term objective, it is, perhaps, important to evaluate the college coach(es). In other words, will you obtain the necessary support to get you on your way? Coaches come in various shapes and sizes and, like other instructors in your life, they may have certain skillsets or understanding of the game. For example, determine whether the coach is into: technique; tactics; training; mental; physical; match-play; doubles; motivation; mix; etc.  Invariably, some coaches will be better at some things than others. Some will be fresh and energetic; others may be looking for retirement. Just like there are specialists in non-tennis professions (law, medicine, accounting), the fact is that some coaches are better at certain components of the game than others. The key is to find the right tool for the job.

Thus, if you have decent technical foundation and are interested in some help with tactics, someone who might be deficient in this area might not be the person for you. Similarly, if you're pretty good at stroke-production and are also good at devising plays, perhaps someone who is a "drill sargeant" and good motivator may be a better fit. Again, it's a fact of life that for every player there's a coach who can be of greatest assistance. For some players, having a friendly relationship with the coach is enough. For others, it's about learning, improving and taking their game to the next level. Accordingly, as a first step, it's important to figure out your wants and needs first. As a second, step determine whether the person who will be overseeing your game for the next 4 years is the right person for the job. Ask for advice from former or current players. Although a lot of coaches believe that they are good at everything, that's not always the case. Figure out from third parties the coaches' strengths and weaknesses. In addition to a personality match, the coach's skills should also match up with the player's needs. 

In addition, try to determine whether the coach's goals are limited to "team" goals (e.g. winning the conference; qualifying for final 16; winning "the big dance") or whether the coach is also interested in improving you as a player (i.e., assisting you with reaching individual objectives). Again, in addition to a hierarchy of skills each person has a hierarchy of interests so it's important to find a mentor who is the best fit for you. 

B. As mentioned above, the school's schedule also plays a huge role. A competitive schedule will most certainly expose you to tough competition, a variety of game styles as well as a variety of environments. If you make a jump to the tour, you may in fact end up competing against some of your college peers. So it's good to become accustomed to their games early since you never know when you will run into them in a Futures or Challenger tournament. Look to the school's schedule over the past 2-3 years and maybe the following year's schedule to see against whom they're going to play - when and where. If you can, try to determine the other schools' teams and the chance that you might play against certain players.

In addition, determine if the school has a budget to send all or only part of the team to pre-season tournaments (Indoor events, All-American tournament, clay court tournaments, etc.). Some schools may only send their top-2 players; others may send the whole team. Obviously, if you want to take your tennis to the next level you want to have the option of getting as varied match experience as possible so it's important to have the opportunity to be placed in these draws. When looking at schedules, it's also good to consider some schools that might not be as highly-ranked but which have a good schedule and where you may play high on the ladder (ensuring that you'll be competing against the best players on the other teams and opening the door to getting ITA ranking points). 

C. Does the school have the best training facilities? A constant point of our discussion here at CAtennis.com is that simply playing more tennis is NOT enough to take you to the next level. You must also be fit and healthy. Certain athletically-inclined schools offer better training areas (gyms, tracks, training rooms) than others. These schools may have the best trainers to help you achieve peak performance and mental experts to assist you with the pressures of competing at the highest level while you're also focusing on academics. You might have access to ball machines, video recording devices, match analysis software, etc. Some programs may be more...Rocky IV; more basic. Some schools may be located in areas where you can do runs on the beach or cross-training by running or biking through the hills. 

D. Try to figure out the size of the team. A larger team may provide you with more opportunity to play against many players whereas on a smaller team the coach's attention may be more focused to a handful of players. Also, larger teams have more administrative burdens to deal with (so the coaches have to manage a limited reource and divide it among numerous tasks). If you're the type of player who takes charge of your own destiny, then a bigger team may be a better fit - since you can set up your own workouts and always have someone to practice against. If you like more individualized attention, a school that carries less players on the team may be more suitable. Similarly, a large team that trains a lot indooers may have more doubles practices (more players per court) than a small team practicing outdoors. Also, additional indoor court-time may be more limited unless the college team has its own indoor facility (some may; others, may be training at private clubs). 

E. Try to figure out if the coach's philosophy is to have individual practices (or "open" practices - i.e. where the player is encouraged to find outside practice) or to only rely on team hits. Try to also figure out what your teammates ultimate objectives may be. If you want to play pro but the other 7-10 players do not, the environment might not be as charged as you'd like. Conversely, if the other players (or most of them) have pro goals, the practices are going to be extremely focused, competitive and high-quality. In addition, the other players will also be looking for extra hits outside of team workouts. 

3. Where does the player see him/herself as living for 4 years? Does the player wish to be close to home/parents/current, private coach? I guess that the best way to go about it would be to go by the sectional map and figure out the best fit for the student-athlete. Although exceptions exist, the schools in certain parts of the country (i.e., the East Coast) are generally more prestigious than others. Some have been around for longer and may have more international recognition. Conversely, these schools might not have the best athletic programs at all times (depending on the particular recruiting class). On the other hand, for someone who is interested in playing a great deal of tennis, other "sections" may be more productive. Overall, sections such as Southern California and Florida (but also Texas - although distances may vary - and Georgia) offer a wide range of non-college tournaments (Opens or Futures) in which the player could participate  on the weekends or when the player is not in college competition. Similarly, if you live in Los Angeles or Miami, you may have more outside practice partners to choose from as opposed to the Midwest or Intermountain. This is not to disparage those areas of the country but it's simply a reality of life that more tennis players choose to settle in certain areas. 

Lastly, one has to consider the likelihood that the player may meet a significant other while in school. With this, there's a chance that the player may relocate permanently to that area of the country as opposed to coming "back home". This is something that may have to be explored with school's counselors - i.e., what % of students end up living within 100 miles of the school following graduation? 


4. Is the player interested in a particular climate? For example, Midwest winters might not be ideal for someone who's lived all his life in Southern California or Florida. Similarly, Pacific Northwest (with a lot of precipitation and, as a result, indoor tennis) might be a tough adjustment for someone who is used to constant sunshine (and outdoor tennis). On the other hand, if the player is interest in winter activities (e.g., skiing, snowboarding), a different climate may be exactly what the student needs. Accordingly, the player should seek the advice of current or former players from similar areas as himself or herself in order to obtain some insight as to the adjustments that have to be made. Nevertheless, since some players are more adaptable than others, the player must also understand himself or herself and his/her ability to cope with these changes. 


5. Is the player interested in a particular extracurricular environment? For example, is the player interested in a "college" atmosphere (e.g., pep rallies, Greek life, college sports, etc.), culture (e.g. museums, concerts, adult scene, etc.)? As a general rule, a lot of smaller towns are more "into" their colleges and athletics than a lot of bigger cities. For example, if you visit schools in the SEC, you may find that those schools may be the center of attention for their relevant community whereas schools that are located in larger urban centers may comprise only a small percentage of the city's center of gravity. This is not to say that the SEC schools are the only ones that offer this type of environment. One can easily find this type of environment all over the place (be it the West Coast, Midwest or places on the East Coast). For some players, these factors may not make a difference - they just want to go somewhere (big, medium or small), play some tennis and get a degree. For others, getting the "college experience" is of utmost importance. Again, when talking to a current or former player, it's important to understand whether s/he is sharing the same interest in some of these characteristics. 


6. Last but certainly not least, ACADEMICS also play an important role. It is also a reality that certain programs have a more prestigious academic curriculum than others. On the other hand, some schools may be outstanding at limited subjects (e.g. A&M programs). It really depends on what the students intends to study and whether s/he sees him/herself as continuing the pursuit of degrees after college. Degrees from certain institutions may open more post-graduate doors than degrees from other schools. This is not, however, to say that a player getting a degree from one of the latter schools is forever foreclosed from going to some Ivy League law school or medical school. But it's another factor to keep in the back of your mind that life doesn't beging or end with college - it's simply a step along the way. Furthermore, certain schools have a different approach when it comes to student athletes. At some programs, student athletes MUST take exams early (in the event the exam date falls on the day of competition); at others, the student-athletes are allowed to make up the test on a later date (or the coach is allowed to proctor the exam in the hotel room). Similarly, some programs offer more extensive tutoring services for student athletes. 

These are, certainly, not ALL the factors that a player should consider. As mentioned before, everyone is different and everyone has a different personality and peculiarities that should be taken into account. For example, some people care about the make-up of the student body, others care about the set up of the campus, the architecture of the building, the quality of the dorms, etc. If you have additional factors that you would like to add, please do so in the comments below. 


So When Are We Going To Start Seeing Some Results?!?


"So we've (i.e. Junior) been playing tennis for a couple of years now. Are we ready to start playing and winning some tournaments?! We know that so-and-so is taking her kids to this tournament or that and getting all these points. We just want to make sure that we're not wasting our time."

Sound familiar? Without a doubt, at one point or another, all parents have had this conversation - or something along the same lines - with their child's coach. It is normal to express these feelings given that tennis is one of the most expensive and time consuming extracurricular activities that a child can engage in. If done right, it is also one of the most worthwhile endeavors to follow. As some of our Q&A segments have shown, good players have the ability to get their schooling paid for, travel the world, meet interesting people from all over and, for the lucky few, earn a very good living from the game. Nevertheless, it is possible that by overemphasizing results at one end of the learning process, the outcomes could be jeopardized at the other end... the important end of the spectrum where results actually matter. This process all starts innocently enough. Initially, Junior is introduced to tennis at the local park, through kids' clinics at the local club or even lessons with the country club pro. This is where things are loose, fun and stress free. Invariably, however, the family unit decides to take things to the next level. This is where things start to get interesting. 



Take a look at the chart above. That, in a nutshell, is TENNIS. Take a good look at it. This is the information that most decent coaches attempt to convey to their students. Are you sure that you (parents and player) are ready for this type of involvement and commitment? We have sought to break the information down into the basic components and make it as understandable to "lay persons" as possible. Unfortunately, tennis is complicated. Unlike other sports where the skills are more limited, tennis encompasses numerous components including athletic ability, intellect and, most importantly, skill (all sides of your body). For every stroke, a student has to learn the proper grip, preparation, movement, stroke, follow-through and recovery. Such components must be practiced thousands of times before they are fully understood and capable of being recalled at will (and under pressing conditions). In addition, these decisions have to be made in the context of a "live" point. There are no time outs, no options to dribble or hold on to the ball and no opportunity to pass the ball (and responsibility) to someone else. It's all you, all the time. No matter what everyone else says, tennis is the most difficult sport there is. All students must master a variety of shots and they must be executed in a limited period of time. There is no caddy reading your greens, no team captain to pass the ball to and there's no coach calling time-outs.

In addition, minor changes in one component end up having consequences in all parts of the game. For example, you can't just switch between grips without switching the stroke that goes along with it. A "western" grip leads to one particular path/swing of the racket. Conversely, a continental or eastern grip leads to a completely different swing. This minor change affects not only what you do with the ball but how you play...the strategies that you are capable of implementing and, consequently, the type of player you can be. One stroke leads to one positioning where another stroke may lead to something completely different. In other words, specific shots are tailored to particular game-styles. Making a minor change in one and it could affect the player's entire game.

Playing too many tournaments before the student has had the opportunity to learn (and ingrain) some of the basic components can be detrimental to the player's game. A coach may work on the player's strokes in proportion to the player's size and body type (e.g., feeding balls low and soft) so that the player grasps the concept more easily and understands what will be expected of him in 10 years' time. Match opponents do not operate under the same restrictions - they hit moon balls, they hit hard or away and sometimes with funky spins. Accordingly, strokes OFTEN change when playing a tournament - sometimes the players, inadvertently, copy each others' outlandish strokes. It happens at the college level and even in the pros but it happens more often before the payer has had the opportunity to master the game and have the shots "gel" into her system. This puts coaches in the awkward position of having to constantly perform "clean up" duty as opposed to focusing on new concepts and incorporating them into the overall game. This is also a good opportunity to revisit the 10,000 hour rule. If things get shifted around too much, the initial investment of hours (and $$$$) may have been for naught. Such skills may in fact have to be forgotten (it's much easier to learn something right than have to unlearn and then relearn).

Unfortunately, a lot of parents feel stressed by the financial, temporal and emotional investment and rush their children into too many tournaments, too soon. Perhaps it's because they want to validate their actions as parents...to make sure that they are doing a "good job." In this regard, they often override the coaches' wishes and advice when it comes to tournaments. Where the coach, normally, advises the family unit to refrain from too many matches and focusing on results, parents often times pay only lip service to such information.

For best results, the ideal time for playing tournaments and the level of tournaments should be left to a knowledgeable coach. There are times when the player should play some tournaments to achieve specific objectives (e.g., learning how to keep score, learning how to be competitive or figuring out how to deal with other personalities). However, there are periods of time during a player's development when tournaments should be avoided like the plague. These are times when the player is working on specific components where premature match-implementation can lead to shaken confidence. For example, when the player changes strokes or is working on specific game-styles, it's often best to take a break from tournaments in order to allow that concept to sink in and become entrenched. At such times, as difficult as it may be, parents should remember to not pay attention to peer pressure. Forget what everyone else is doing; forget the national points that everyone else are chasing. Your child is working on something specific so s/he needs to follow a path that is tailor-made for him/her.

At the end of the day, everyone is different. Some players thrive on competition; others may be more reserved and analytical. But one of the long-term detrimental effects of competing "too soon" is that the player is not given the opportunity to properly learn a shot to the exclusion of all the "bad" shots. In other words, it's not enough that the player grasps the concept of a particular stroke. That stroke must be the ONLY one that the player reproduces. In effect, the new shots/concepts must be learned and the old ones must be forgotten. It's not efficient (or effective) if the player hits 50 shots one way; 35 a different way and 10 shots another way altogether. The "proper" shot must be the only one that comes out - whether in regular rallies or under pressure (with adjustments, of course) at all times. That, and NOT THE AMOUNT OF MONEY OR NUMBER OF LESSONS, is usually a good indicator that the player is ready to mix things up with some tournaments.